When Students Occupied Schools in Brazil – with Marcela Jesus, a former protester

By POC Stories

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  • Writing credits : POC Stories
  • Video credits: Eliza Capai
  • Photo credits: Carol Quintanilha, Silvia Izquierdo

Education is often the subject of multiple reforms and remains a highly fragile right. ‘Your Turn’, a documentary directed by Eliza Capai, draws attention to activists initiatives, students’ protests and movements in the last decades in Brazil, through 3 protagonists, Marcela Jesus, Lukas Koka Penteado and Nayara Souza, bringing each of them, diverse perspectives.

The Social Context Of The 2013-2018 Protests

The documentary took place from 2013 until 2018, retracing the series of social protests taking place in Brazil. The groan comes first to the fore in 2013, when around 1,25 million protested against the increase in public transport fares, while the rate of economic growth is slower and the inflation rate is higher. Demonstrations and strikes continue in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, contesting the enormous sums invested by the Brazilian government. One year later, Brazil faces crises in multiple fronts: Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the collapse of a mining dam, the economic recession causing the loss of more than one million jobs; It is under this turmoil many students spark protests and occupations, after São Paulo governor’s announcement about the shutdown of 94 schools in the state and corruption scandal regarding school lunches. General strike hits again the country in 2017 after the announcement of labor reform, impacting a range of workers’ right. The election of the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, disrupted a series of protests.

Social And Racial Disparities

Besides addressing the students protests, the documentary highlights a range of social issues such as corruption, racial profiling, police brutality, inequality of educational opportunities. The gap is very huge between public and private schools in Brazil, as private schools benefit overall from better infrastructure than the private ones. Thus, the education system promotes racial and class inequalities. Indeed, the majority of the students in public schools are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), from the working class, whereas, in private schools, there is a majority of non-BIPOC students from the middle to upper classes. Marcela Jesus, mentioned above, is of the protagonists in the documentary, actress and performer based in São Paulo. Coming from a black working-class family, she is the first of her family to finish high school as she explains in the documentary while going through to choose between paying rent and paying food.

©Eliza Capai

How Did Marcela Jesus Join The Students Movement And ‘Your Turn’

Marcela Jesus knew about the students’ movement from a teacher, raising awareness about the future of education.  Overcrowded classes, no good supplies as books, pencils, computers, missing foods, such conditions can not guarantee a good educational environment. Eliza Capai accompanies three students, protagonists of the documentary, including Marcela Jesus. She has been contacted by the director Eliza Capai through Facebook. At first, the idea was to gather students testimonies for producing the documentary. But after reflection, Eliza Capai chose Marcela Jesus to be one of the protagonists. Marcela Jesus shares with us her activist journey where she protested, occupied her school. Those months of activism took part of her growth where she learned a lot, and reconnect with herself through transitioning to her natural hair. Occupations offered a space for students to debate on diverse social issues such as street harassment but also a space of freedom for LGBTQIA+ love and reconnecting with their heritage to name a few.

Not only it had a positive impact on the personal level. After the student’s movement, the necessary amount of school lunches started to provide. ‘After the students’ protests, politicians took students more seriously. They understood students can have a political influence, took part in politics, reclaim their rights’, explains Marcela Jesus.

Ubiquitous Violence And Police Brutality

However, violence marked their students’ protests. Throughout the documentary, we see how violence is pervasive through the police, military and government repression.

Argument between students and the police, and a student violently arrested. TW: violence – ©Eliza Capai

‘Due to police and military repression, we lost some people. This is a big loss for any movement that will be created further, people would think about it twice’, expounds Marcela. In the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, 408 people in 2015 and 470 people in 2017 were killed during a police intervention. Racial profiling and police brutality target even more Brazilians defined as black, as 75% of victims during police operations are black. The documentary captures moments of racial profiling, including this scene where one of Lukas’ friends is being controlled by the police.

Daily police control for a bike – ©Eliza Capai

Students protests under Jair Bolsonaro’s governement

The spending freeze in education has sparked protests over the country in 2019. History repeats itself again, with students taking to the streets to fight for an education that suffers from a lack of investment and consideration. It is as if there is no way out, as if these students have a voice that can be heard from afar.

Student protests in May 2019 in Rio de Janeiro – ©Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo

Life after the documentary

After finishing high school, Marcela Jesus is pursuing her studies at the university, in scenic art and also is part of her theatre group. As artistic jobs are seen as rather hobbies than professions, it is pretty hard to make a living as an artist, even more now harder under the Bolsonaro government, as most of the investments are also cut off. She does not see her future in Brazil and hopes for new horizons.

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